PLAS History

A Ground-Breaking Program in Latin American Studies

The scholarship and dedication of Professor Dana Gardner Munro laid the foundation for Latin American Studies at Princeton, which welcomed its first class of students in 1967. Dr. Munro, a retired state department official who had specialized in Latin America and former chairman of the School of Public and International Affairs, was well suited to guide its creation. Moreover, he saw the value of field experience for undergraduate thesis scholarship, and secured judicious grants to help fund students’ travels, financed by the Doherty Charitable Foundation.

Munro's attention to undergraduates in the School of Public and International Affairs sparked the interest of such prominent early Latin Americanist historians as Richard Morse from Yale and Milton Vanger from Brandeis. In 1966, Munro was joined by Dean Brown of the School of Public and International Affairs, and Cyril Black, a scholar of Russian history and then-director of the Council on Regional Studies. Together, they secured the original PLAS endowment in 1966 from the Doherty Foundation.

Shaping the Program

Stanley J. Stein was appointed as the first PLAS director for 1967-1968, and served through 1971-1972. He was the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor of Spanish Civilization & Culture, Emeritus, and Professor of History, Emeritus. The Program's initial work centered on:

  • Determining the requirements for the LAS certificate
  • Getting undergraduates into the field in Latin America to carry out fieldwork in Latin America
  • Creating a fellowship to be given at the end of a graduate student’s first year, in order to facilitate their second year at Princeton

The faculty also addressed the challenge of filling departmental gaps in Latin American Studies, of allocating endowment income, and addressing the acquisition of new materials for the library.

Building Collections to Advance Scholarship

Historian Barbara Hadley Stein, the University’s first Bibliographer for Latin America, Spain and Portugal (1966-1977), can be credited as a major influencer in building those library collections. Her successor, Peter T. Johnson, credits Stein with their development. Her systematic approach informed the forward-looking social sciences and humanities acquisition policies and priorities established with the input of the PLAS faculty committee. Indeed, her familiarity with scholarly trends in Latin America and Europe and her broad collection-development interests anticipated today's interdisciplinary research orientation.

“It’s really important in a globalized world to have a program that introduces students to other countries, languages and cultures. My particular area of expertise is Latin America and PLAS has really been fundamental in my attempts to reach out to people on both sides of the border, North and South.”  -Douglas S. Massey (Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Princeton University)